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Study: Sickle cell trait does not increase heart disease risk in African Americans

Having the sickle cell trait does not necessarily increase risk for heart disease, according to new research. File Photo by hywards/Shutterstock
Having the sickle cell trait does not necessarily increase risk for heart disease, according to new research. File Photo by hywards/Shutterstock

Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Carrying the sickle cell trait does not play a significant role in the increased risk for coronary heart disease among African Americans, a study published Tuesday by JAMA Network Open found.

Although African Americans are twice as likely to die from heart disease than White people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those carrying the sickle cell trait have only a 3% higher risk for heart problems than those who don't, the new data showed.

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It's likely that other health problems, such as higher rates of high blood pressure and diabetes, contribute more to heart disease risk among African Americans than sickle cell, the researchers said.

"We don't see sickle cell trait as significant risk factor by itself," study co-author Dr. Hyacinth Hyacinth told UPI.

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"However, it may interact with other risk factors, like hypertension and diabetes, to increase a person's risk," said Hyacinth, a pediatric oncologist at Emory University in Atlanta.

In other words, an African American who carries the sickle cell trait and has diabetes may have a higher risk for coronary heart disease than someone with diabetes alone, he said.

Hyacinth and his colleagues also published a study in 2019 that found that African Americans with diabetes who carried the sickle cell trait were at increased risk for dementia.

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Up to 8% of African Americans, and 20% to 30% of Africans, possess the sickle cell trait, meaning they have inherited the sickle cell gene from one of their parents, the CDC estimates.

People with the sickle cell trait often do not have any of the symptoms of sickle cell disease and live a normal life, but the trait can increase their risk for other problems, including kidney disease and respiratory problems, according to Hyacinth.

For this study, Hyacinth and his colleagues analyzed data on the heart health of 23,197 African American adults, 1,781 of whom carried the sickle cell trait.

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A total of 1,034 participants, including 76 with the sickle cell trait, suffered a heart attack during the study period, while 1,714, including 137 with the sickle cell trait, had coronary heart disease, the data showed.

The incidence rate of heart attack and coronary heart disease did not differ significantly between those carrying the sickle cell trait and those who did not.

However, the study did not assess whether those who carry the trait and have other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, are at increased risk, according to Hyacinth.

The fact remains that African Americans are still at increased for heart disease, whether or not they carry the sickle cell trait, Hyacinth said.

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This means they should limit their risk by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, controlling their blood pressure and maintaining a healthy weight, he added.

"That advice never changes, genetic risk factors or not," he said.

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